Posts Tagged ‘farmers markets’

Communicating the benefits of urban agriculture while innovation grows

The area of urban agriculture has grown by leaps and bounds in just a few years. I think the more people start to realize the feasibility, and soon necessity, of producing their own food, the more it will develop and become even more feasible, affordable, and mainstream. So what are some of the innovations we have seen?

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Innovations in urban agriculture

  • Hydroponics is a method of growing fruits and vegetables in water, which conserves the use of vast areas of farmland and allows crops to be grown in desert areas where they otherwise would not be able to. Further, it is able to also conserve and re-use water that is lost during evaporation or field run-off in traditional soil farming. Also, there is no risk for parasites or weeds to infest the controlled systems in which hydroponic plants are grown, therefore making them largely non-GMO and free of pesticides and chemicals. Bonus: you can grow hydroponically basically anywhere–in an apartment or a house. Eve Bratman has a hydroponic garden on her houseboat that she made entirely on her own from used water bottles and empty jugs.
  • Permaculture is still a bit of a flimsy term, in my opinion, only because it can mean so many different things, and isn’t widely known about. But it basically indicates an “ecologically designed system for sustainability in all aspects of human endeavor.” Permaculture is currently being used in different ways in different places and in all of those places, there is not a unified “permaculture” there are just isolated tactics that build on the idea of a permaculture. For example, think of worm composting, or vermiculture, which is one such tactic which is being carried out in various cities in the country, some even offering workshops and providing free worms and materials to those interested. This provides a sort of mutual symbiosis between two living things–the worms benefits by being fed, humans benefit by receiving rich soil and not filling landfills with compostable garbage. Perhaps a ” perfect permaculture” is the pie-in-the-sky goal we set to achieve, but it is through these mutually symbiotic relationships that we are able to do get closer to that.

    Photo credit: cafedirect

  • Rooftop farming, which can often be combined with hydroponic growing, is typcially used in areas of urban sprawl where soil/ground space is limited, to utilize unused rooftop spaces where sunlight is ample. Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Brooklyn is one case study that has really taken this concept to a whole new level. They also offer various workshops on cooking, gardening and how the farm works. Their farm grows primarily vegetables, and is open from June through November.
  • Sack gardening is a way for people to grow vegetables in small sack containers, usually when the contamination of the soil around them is too high. It is typically done on a smaller, individual scale, in places where food scarcity is a problem, and in both urban and rural locations.
  • Window farming is another way of using hydroponics, but in a specialized manner and primarily in urban settings. It is a way of using water bottles, water, hydroponic seeds (usually herbs and lettuce and greens like that), along with an low energy-intensive air pump which circulates the water, to grow plants in your window. This type of method is barely “farming,” however, if people were properly instructed on how to best go about making their own, it could be worth looking into. Also, if you live in a city and the view of your outdoors is the brick wall of the building next to yours, this could actually prove to be an improvement to your home, from an aesthetic viewpoint. (Not to mention that having plants in your home has been known to have all sorts of health benefits.)
  • Seasonal cooking would basically just mean knowing what is in season and planning your meals around those items. The fortunate reality is that a lot of us have access to local, fresh fruits and vegetables. However, many people don’t know what to do with a lot of those fruits and vegetables. It would be great to see more community and cooking classes, mobilizing people to learn how to cook just to start, but also to learn how to use local ingredients. Because if the option is there, there’s no reason not to choose local over imported. Epicurious offers an example of a map that can help to inform people about about what to expect is in peak season from their CSA or farmer’s market and how to therefore meal plan to accommodate those ingredients.

So what’s stopping us?

Locations. Some work better in some communities versus others.

Seasons. Not all of these methods can provide food at all times of the year everywhere, (except for the hydroponic ones.)

Culture/Value systems. People are going to have to shift how they think about and value their food, each other, and future generations. These types of methods require more time, patience, research, and money than traditional ways of getting food–going to a restaurant or the grocery store. Which means people are going to have to change the way they think about food. People might have to forfeit some of the time they spend watching television in the evenings in order to tend to their gardens or make time to cook meals from scratch in their homes. They are going to have to learn to appreciate eating with the seasons, and in fact, eating generally less, in quantity.

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Communicating benefits to consumers

While all of these methods of urban gardening and having a local, low carbon-footprint certainly interest some of us, and they are something we would be willing to use, they aren’t all 100 percent practical. Would these methods be used in conjunction with traditional food shopping? Would they slowly replace traditional methods? Or would they just be something some people adopted while others did not?

It’s hard to really know the answer. What I foresee is something quite similar to how companies like, say, Apple, market their products to consumers: first, the innovators get on board. Eve Bratman, my professor with the compost bin and on-the-boat garden, is one such innovator in the field of urban agriculture. Next, there are the early adopters, then the early majority (also called the “pragmatists”),  then the late majority (“the conservatives”), and lastly the laggards. How you move along more quickly is by conveying the importance–the “gotta-have-it” factor–of the technologies.

This reality and challenge is something that excites me, as a student and soon-to-be graduate in the field of communications. I feel like a lot of what is missing in the environmental movement is strategic communication about how and why people should change their behaviors. I think there is a place for communicators to get that message out to the public and I see that as being a huge catalyst for change in the future of the “sustainable movement”.

The way I imagine these sorts of methods becoming more widely accepted is through slow implementation motivated by strategic communication, just like all new technology works. Pilot programs embraced and tested out by the innovators and early adopters will not only provide evidence for the feasibility of certain tactics, but will allow for what doesn’t work to shine through and motivate alterations that can be modeled after later on. This will also allow programs to evolve at a pace that doesn’t freak out the “treehugger-phobics” as I like to call them (the kind of people who, when you “threaten to take away their right to buy bottled water” get all bent out of shape and start spouting off allegations of “fascism”)!

It’s important to communicate knowing that there are going to be those opposing voices when it comes to getting people to change their lifestyles. Which is why I feel when it comes to revolutionizing our food system, especially with tactics that require people to change on a personal level, you have to prove to consumers the benefits, and that change doesn’t have to be just easy, it’s rewarding.

Where have all the farmers gone?

Or, I suppose the better question is, if someone does a study that shows the economic benefits of growing more diverse fruits and vegetables for more local consumers on smaller farms, will enough people attempt to test the theory out?

Job creation

Let’s first take a look at exactly what this study (“Selected  Measures of the Economic Values  of Increased Fruit and Vegetable Production and Consumption in the Upper Midwest”) found. First, more fruit and vegetable production in the six Midwestern states looked at could, theoretically, equal $882 million in sales at the farm level, with more than 9,300 jobs. Corn and soybean production on that same amount of land would support only 2,578 jobs. If half of the increased production was sold in farmer-owned stores, it would require 1,405 such stores staffed by 9,652 people. Only 270,025 acres—roughly equivalent to the average cropland in one of Iowa’s counties—would be needed to grow enough fruits and vegetables for the six-state region.

It’s first important to note that I realize this data was collected based on research in the Midwest, and the same numbers would not apply throughout the United States. However, if pursued even just in the Midwest, this sort of movement could drastically change the way agriculture is looked at in this country. This study shows that there is the potential to grow 28 different kinds of fruits and vegetables there that people in the region are currently getting from far distances, possibly even outside the Untied States. This is one thing that really irritates me, personally, with regard to buying locally: the idea that food items are being trucked or flown in from far away when they actually are being grown just miles away.

Creating desire by easing the process

But here is the one looming issue: Are there really enough people out there that want to be farmers? Can we really get 9,300 determined-to-be-farmer folks? It’s hard to say, because I don’t think there are enough people out there that know they can be farmers. There are plenty of college recruiters visiting high schools and talking to students about spending thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars, on their education. How many of them are talking about studying agriculture? I don’t even remember thinking about the idea of agriculture until well into college. And further, how many of those colleges actually offer degrees in agriculture? And how well do these degree programs actually train people to own and manage a farm in a practical sense but one that uses progressive, organic methods? This Web site indicates that there are at least twelve schools that offer this degree in the U.S.—compared to the oh, say, hundreds, perhaps thousands that offer finance or business degrees. But then what happens after?

This got me thinking about creating an agency that would facilitate efforts to create more small farms (say, 100 acres or less) that did not rely on government subsidies for commodity crops. I am familiar with the NFFC (National Family Farm Coalition), but I feel they are still very small and focus primarily on helping existing farmers instead of making communities more able to produce their own food by motivating more people to take interest and become educated on how to.

What would an agency focused on making farmers succeed do?

  • put interested individuals in touch with schools/universities that offer degrees in agriculture
  • put students and potential students in touch with scholarship programs specifically designed for agriculture students
  • help to find land to farm or existing corn/tobacco/soybean/cotton farms that can be transformed and diversified
  • teach them how to correctly negotiate the purchase of this land
  • offer classes/put in touch with education on proper farming techniques that would minimize or eliminate pesticide use, not rely on GMO’s and keep land fertile (crop rotation, etc.)
  • train on proper budgeting and financial training, how to take out loans properly and how to pay them back
  • helping to create a business plan

All of this would have to come for free or for a very low cost in order to encourage more farmer training. And these are just some of the ideas that first come to mind. There are likely other innovative and less expensive ways to go about encouraging more small farmers to go into business (programs at the universities that partner up business students/MBA’s with those that specialize in agriculture/biology who might want to start a farming business together).

Farmers as entrepreneurs

Because the truth is that farming is NOT easy, which is why it has been industrialized over the past 100 years. It requires both farming know-how, technological savvy, science and biology training/college education in agriculture, business planning, and huge start-up costs (though you can get a loan, much like any businessman or entrepreneur knows). Further, farming carries with it huge risks related to crop failures, inability to sell enough goods, weather-related issues, and other problems. This is why it is so tempting for farmers to grow commodity crops, in order to get by on subsidies from the government, (which also gets into why the government needs to diversify its subsidy program in order to encourage more biodiversity.)

Interestingly, I think the idea of making more people embrace the farming life as a legitimate job, in fact a business well-worth pursuing, comes down to a bit more education, that is, PR type messaging to the country as a whole, which could lead to cultural shifts. As Giovanni Federico asserts in Feeding the World, 75 percent of the population must take up the helm of farming if we expect to keep people fed but do so with more traditional farming methods (I don’t think the real figure would be quite this high, because I think traditional farming methods have been improved on many existing smaller farms, while still keeping them sustainable.)

But the reality that more people would need to farm (and more people will need to garden/find ways to produce their own food) in order to eliminate industrial farming is quite undeniable.

Next up, I plan to outline some of the innovative ways urban gardening and small farm operations are improving.

Greening Cleveland Park: Organic Gardening for Beginners

Hey! I am just dropping this quick post for those of you in the D.C. area who like to garden and don’t already have plans for today. I won’t be attending because I have about 34 billion things to do today (hence, why I am awake at 6 o’clock on a Sunday morning…) but the executive director of Food & Water Watch, Wenonah Hauter, sent this out and I thought it would be of interest to some of you. It’s free, also, and anyone is welcome to attend.

Greening Cleveland Park: Organic Gardening for Beginners
Cleveland Park Club
3433 33rd Place, NW
Sunday, April 11   2-4 PM
Join us early in the gardening season for an exciting workshop and discussion on growing vegetables, flowers and other landscaping plants without toxic chemicals. Greening Cleveland Park is a subcommittee of the Cleveland Park Citizens Association.
Speakers:
Leslie Gignoux and Scott Fritz, Landscape Architects
Joshua Wenz, Owner, My Organic Garden

I hope to post a little something tomorrow—at some point—after my farmer’s market trip, so stay tuned. :]

My weekend: a haircut, veggie roasting, and I think I need to get checked for narcolepsy

I feel like all I did this weekend was sleep. And it’s not that I avoided work, it’s just that every time I got into doing work, I fell asleep! I swear I’m not lazy! I’m narcoleptic! I didn’t get out, barely, aside from a trip to the farmers market and the hair dresser on Sunday

Which, speaking of the hairdresser. I sort of got a little bang going on now. Before and after shot? Yes, please.

Before: Drab, boring, lifeless hair. Boy, do I look sad!

After! WOW, what a difference! I’m smiling!

Sure, now you are thinking. -I mean, Kel, it doesn’t really look all that different. All you did was change the Photobooth setting that you took the picture on.  -UM. actually, there is a pile of my hair on the floor of Mimosa in D.C. that can prove that isn’t true.

By the way, it was my first time there, and I approve, if you live in D.C. and are looking for a place to get your hair and nails did. English isn’t their first language, but they know what they are doing. Prices are very fair, too.

To be honest, before this weekend, I don’t even know the last time I had my hair cut. Stuff grows like a weed. And, I am beginning to realize the ridiculousness of me showing you pictures of my new bangs, which literally consist of 3-5 strands of my hair. And also my hair is tucked behind my ears in the ‘before’ picture and you can’t see the length difference in the ‘after’, solidifying the pointlessness. Moving on to food….!


This weekend, all I wanted to do was roast veggies.I had brussel sprouts from the AU farmers market so on Saturday night (yes, Saturday night *sigh*) I just nipped off what little stem there was, coated them in EVOO, salt, pepper, and chopped up garlic, baked them on a cookie sheet for like 20 minutes. They were little guys and didn’t take long. The garlic gets pretty charred by the time the brussels are done though. Which doesn’t effect the rest, but does leave some clean-up. If you don’t mind that, have at it. Hey, you can even buy one of these babies and really feel like a housewife while you’re scrubbing pans: (ps I want one).

Also, direct quote from Jen in regards to these bowls from Anthropologie:

“Those bowls make cooking fun again!” So true.

Can I just say that the remainder of the food shots from this night don’t appear appetizing but I swear to you, the food was great.

That’s naan and then some onion/egg scramble thing. Listen, I could eat some variation of eggs for breakfast and dinner every day for the rest of my life I think sometimes. I could go vegan if not for eggs. PS, those brussel sprouts look burnt, but they aren’t. They are delicious.

Yesterday I went to the farmers market and bought this loaf of peasant wheat for $5. It’s literally the size of a three-year-old. Let’s see if it lasts me a week.

I just think that Kale looks like mini crocodiles in a photo. Anyone else? I’m a weirdo? OK, then.

Then I made kale chips for the first time. I don’t know which blogger to shout out for this one, so I will choose Jacquie because she let me try her’s the other day and I was sold. Basically you rub EVOO all up in those pieces of Tuscan kale you got at the market and you grind some course salt and pepper on there and lay them so they all have their own space, and you bake at 350 for about 10-12 minutes. Jacquie sprinkles on some nutritional yeast to give it a cheesey edge. I didn’t have any and still found the kale chips to be about as addictive as Stacy’s pita chips and Sabra hummus (which is very addictive.) I ate a pan’s worth straight out the oven. Luckily I had enough for two more batches.

There must be some chemical reaction that happens with kale when you bake it that makes it so delicious. Like crack, people.

Then the parsnips got jealous of all the veggie roasting, so I peeled and sliced them up real thin as well.

I’ve got veggie chips of all sorts to get me through the week.

OK, I had half a glass of wine Sunday night, and only because I thought it would be great with my dinner of kale chips—which it was. And actually I felt much more sleepy before the wine, surprisingly.

But on that note, what do you do when you can’t keep your eyes open despite getting enough rest? I am a perpetual napper lately!! But I don’t like to use caffeine because I just feel like that will take me down the road to a very expensive habit.

I think from now on when I feel the eyelids getting heavy I’m going to (attempt to) do some push-ups. To get the blood flowing. I need to tone up anyhow, in preparation for this dress I tried on but haven’t bought yet because it’s a billion dollars and I think my Mac is about to crap out any day now.

SIGH.

ALSO–Any kale chip lovers out there ever make ahead? Does it work out? Mine aren’t crispy today and I am sad. I had them in a plastic bag, but I guess it wasn’t air-tight. Suggestions?

Reporting back on food spending

Well. It’s the moment of truth. Last week, I told you I was going to keep track of all the money I spent on food. So I did. And here’s the breakdown.

Friday, March 12 – Went to Giant, bought too much really, intended to only get the “essentials” like peanut butter, bread (which, as I didn’t even need to get eat because I bought bread at the market so I froze this bread), jelly (again, didn’t need to get), pickles (I never buy pickles, not sure about the decision–never shop while experiencing strange cravings), salt (definitely needed that), soy milk, matzo crackers, cream cheese, cuc’s, strawberries. – $52.18

Saturday, March 13 – Went to Farmers Market and bought all that stuff I pictured last week – $33.75

Then Wednesday came and I was up late Tuesday writing a paper (and by up late I mean I slept from 10pm to midnight, then 7-8am, which apparently is now my customary routine.) The point is, I woke up and had to run to an interview and then meet with my dean to read him a speech I entered into this commencement speaker contest and so anyway I didn’t have a lunch prepared. My school is pretty awesome and unique in that we have a mini farmers market on campus on Wednesdays, which is rather fitting as that is the only day I’m ever on campus. So I went there and picked up some snacks (dried cranberries and apples–which I still haven’t finished–and challah bread which I shared with the Eagle office in part to prevent myself from consuming the entire loaf) and then later on I bought a salad with black beans because let’s be real, eating nothing but carbohydrates all day is just not fulfilling. So, salad plus farm goodies – $17

(Now, considering I started this tally on Friday, I would think the last day would be Thursday. So we will disregard the fact that I forgot the salad I specifically made to bring with me on Friday to work and instead had to go to Whole Foods and spend $7 at the salad bar. Oh well.)

This puts my grand total for March 12-18 at:

$102.93

Which is pretty much what I estimated I have been spending.

All in all, I honestly think I am buying too much food. I don’t think I am spending too much on the food that I buy, I just think I am buying so much that I’m not eating everything I buy that week, and then I am also having to throw away the stuff that goes bad, usually veggies. I am overestimating how much I am going cook and eat. I need to just buy enough for one week at a time, (obviously except for things like spices or big bags of rice or whatever.) So I am glad I did this because it taught me three important things I need to work on to curb my spending and reduce and hopefully completely eliminate the food that I waste–while not changing the quality of the food I buy:

  1. I need to buy smaller quantities of food, especially bread and vegetables.
  2. I need to make my lunches/meals for the next day the night before and I need to remember to bring those meals!
  3. I need to plan better what I am going to make as my “main meal with leftovers” so that I only buy the ingredients I will use.

It’s still important to mention that my opinion still stands, I would rather spend more on food than other things. For crying out loud, half my paycheck this week went directly to the food I put in my mouth (I say 30 percent of my total “income” because my parents help me with most of my rent right now and I include that as income.) And a lot of times I share the food that I buy, or cook a meal that is shared. But usually that’s balanced out by the food people share with me.

Anyhow, it’s a gorgeous day. I think I will throw some things in the crockpot and go outside and read in the sunshine.

How’s the weather where you are? I hope wonderful. And I hope everyone at Fitbloggin‘ is having so much fun! I wish I was there meeting you all!

Can Slow Food be Fast Food?

Does fast food have to mean non-local, unhealthy, unethical, and not socially conscious? We are beginning to see some signs that maybe it doesn’t.

And I am very excited to say I have a guest post on this topic on Greenfudge.org today! You can check it out here.

Hope everyone is having a wonderful day.

I live closer to a farmers market than the grocery store.

I can’t believe I just found this market! A friend of mine informed me last week that there is a Saturday farmers market at the corner of Alton Pl. and 36th St, in the parking lot of the Sheridan School, which just so happens to be a 5-minute walk  from where I live. It is held by New Morning Farm, which is about a hundred miles north of here in Pennsylvania. And, it literally is easier to get to than the Giant for me. How about that.

So yesterday, I trekked out into the snowy morning, and went to pick up loads of fun stuff. I got: raisin-walnut bread, honey crisp apples (omg–the best apples in the world), a couple pink lady apples (which I also like, but not as much as honey crisp), Asian pears, carrots, white sweet potatoes, turnips, arugula, and beets. I got a ton of stuff, literally all the food I will need this week minus a couple things like soy milk, almond butter, soy “meat”, etc–and I only spent about $35. In fact, the honey crisp apples were $2/lb, which is $.59 cheaper than they used to be when Giant had them, which they don’t anymore. I hate Giant, I really do. I shop there, but I hate it.

Bt-dubs, if you are looking to really cut out your plastic bag usage, check out these produce bags from ReusableBags.com — They are awesome, my sister got me a set for Christmas and I use them all the time. Every time I use them, people stare at me, with jealous eyes. Mmmhm.

So then, I went on to literally cook up a storm yesterday. I cooked so much I didn’t have time to blog, that’s how much I cooked. I think what I am going to try to do from now on is do my cooking on Saturday/Sunday and then have meals to eat during the week. I never have time to cook during the week. Does anyone?

I boiled up the beets and peeled them and put them away to use later in the week in salads or heated up. Um, so just a tip if you plan on boiling and peeling beets at home: don’t wear a white top while doing so. I couldn’t tell if I was cutting into my fingers or just covered in beet juice. Appetizing, I know. (I didn’t cut myself. Just FYI.) But anyway my clothes were covered in red spots after–I should invest in an apron. If anyone knows a simple way to peel beets, please let me know.

More on beets: I had never eaten a beet until about a year ago, when I accidentally ate one at a salad bar. And I liked it. I just don’t ever buy or cook with them, but they really are delicious. And they are apparently really good for you, super high in fiber and vitamin B and all this good stuff. Anyway, buy an apron, eat a beet. This concludes today’s Beet PSA.

Later on, I got my carrots all peeled and sliced up for the week. If I don’t do that when I first bring them home, I never eat them, it’s awful. I just get too busy/lazy during the week.

Then, I made the most delicious smashed white sweet potatoes. This is literally all the ingredients I used.

White sweet potatoes aren’t that sweet–they are sort of a combination between white potatoes and regular sweet potatoes. Which means you can make them go sweet or savory. I went savory. I boiled them up ’til tender, then threw in some chive cream cheese, garlic powder (didn’t have real garlic on hand), salt, pepper, and soy milk until just right. I mashed them up with this doo-dad we’ve had in the kitchen but I don’t think we’ve ever used, worked like a charm. I’ll graze on those pot’s throughout the week.

Then, I embarked on a strange turnip ordeal. My sister sent me a recipe for glazed turnips, which I intended to make, but then I think I put too much water in, so I decided hey, this is going to taste sweet anyway, let’s throw in some sliced Asian pear. So basically, this is what I did: Heated up a saute pan to medium heat, threw in sliced up peeled turnips, then threw in about 2 T. butter, a little pepper, and a big drizzle of maple syrup. Then I threw in the sliced pear. Then I poured in some water until everything was covered, but I should have only put in about half that amount of water–it’s supposed to steam the turnips, not boil them–not a huge mistake but ended up making everything more cooked than ideal. Then you cover the pan (I didn’t have a properly fitting cover–oh well) and steam for 10 minutes.

I tried the glazed turnip-pear experiment afterward, it was OK–but needs work for sure.

Note to self: I need more spices for the cabinet if I expect to do much cooking down the line. We’ve literally got about 5 spices in the kitchen, including salt and pepper.

Oh! And, look at all the books that arrived yesterday for my independent study slash personal reading pleasure eventually when I have more free time…

And now off to Bikram